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Why Does Your Dog love Eating Poo?

Updated on June 17, 2013
Event the best behaved dogs can indulge in Coprophagia!
Event the best behaved dogs can indulge in Coprophagia! | Source

Our beautiful dogs and their love of poop!

We love them, adore them, laugh with them and play with them. Nothing is more perfect than our dogs right? Well, this is true, except for one habit in particular that turns many an owner's stomach. Eating poo! Having been a Registered Nurse for many a year I've seen sights that would turn a lot of people's insides, but even I've been on the point of nausea by the habits of some of my beloved dogs!

Therefore, let's find out more about coprophagia - the medical term for eating poo.

  • Why do dogs do it?
  • Is there any benefit to them from doing so?
  • Is it harmful to them?
  • Can we stop it?

Kassy's Coprophagia involves a particular liking for cow poo!
Kassy's Coprophagia involves a particular liking for cow poo! | Source
Kassy will often pretend to eat grass, just before she sneaks off for a quick cow poo dessert!
Kassy will often pretend to eat grass, just before she sneaks off for a quick cow poo dessert! | Source

Why do dogs eat poo?

Depending on the type of poo your dog feasts on, it goes by a different name:

  • Autocoprophagia - this is the rarest form and involves a dog eating its own faeces.
  • Intraspecific Coprophagia - this is when your dog eats the faeces of another dog.
  • Interspecific Coprophagia - this is when a dog eats the faeces of another species for example - cat, horse, cow, sheep, rabbit, deer etc. This is the most common form of coprophagia.

Is it normal behaviour?

One of the first reasons dogs may indulge in this unpleasant behaviour is because they actually enjoy the taste. Poop might not be on our list of menu favourites but dogs and humans are obviously very different. In addition, if you take a look back at where our dogs came from - the wolf - although wolves are very good hunters, frequently they do have to resort to scavenging. Unfortunately scavenging includes eating any kind of faeces available, including human. This genetic inclination is likely to still be present in our domesticated dogs. In this instance, coprophagia is actually normal behaviour.

Veterinary and behaviour researchers have observed other activities that involve the eating of poo:

  • Bitches with puppies will often eat her young's faeces. This is not only to keep the area as cleans as possible for her pups, but in the wild this behaviour would help to conceal the odour from potential predators.
  • In some cases poo eating develops simply because a dog has watched another dog eating it. There are also some researchers who believe that dogs who see their owner cleaning up poo may decide to do likewise by eating it. However, there is not full agreement on this.
  • Dogs have been observed eating the faeces of a sick dog. This is again a throw back to being in the wild, when this behaviour would protect the sick animal from predators by eliminating the odour.

Are there health reasons for coprophagia?

Apart from following normal behaviour patterns, coprophagia can also be a sign of health issues with the dog.

  • Puppies will often eat faeces in order to restore a mineral or vitamin deficiency in their diet. This happens commonly when they are fed on a poor quality food lacking in the essential nutritional requirements.
  • Malabsorption syndromes. Some dogs who have any of these distressing conditions may eat faeces. This can include eating their own poo. It's thought that the dogs do this, very like the puppies from earlier, to try to absorb essential nutrients that are unable to be taken into the body during the normal digestion process.

Does eating poo harm dogs?

Provided your dog is fully vaccinated and regularly wormed, eating poo doesn't seem to cause dogs any real harm. Sure, there are the occasions when they will get a gastric or intestinal upset, but apart from that, there are no long-term health complications.

Now that we've covered the basics of what is normal behaviour let's now look at when coprophagia becomes an abnormal activity.

A bitch will often eat the faeces of her pups. This is a throw back to the wild, when this action would help to protect her young from predators
A bitch will often eat the faeces of her pups. This is a throw back to the wild, when this action would help to protect her young from predators | Source
Even very young puppies will display coprophagia if their diet is lacking or if they are anxious/distressed.
Even very young puppies will display coprophagia if their diet is lacking or if they are anxious/distressed. | Source

When is coprophagia a sign of problem behaviour?

Although eating poo is within the normal behaviour range for most dogs, there are times when it is not.

Problem dog behaviour

There are a number of ways that coprophagia may be a demonstration of a problem behaviour. For example, is your dog eating faeces in order to get attention? Our first reaction when we see our dog eating poo is to shout. Now even although this not exactly positive attention, to some dogs, it won't matter - its the attention they want whether it's positive or negative. Be particularly careful with the breeds who love nothing better than to please their owners and have been bred this way, such as - Springer Spaniels, Labradors and Retrievers among many others. These breeds may have more of a tendency to display attention seeking behaviour.

Problem human behaviour

In many cases of coprophagia it isn't the dog who is at fault but the human. Here are a few examples of how we encourage coprophagia in our dogs:

  • If you use punishment with a puppy when house training them - especially when it poops inside the house. It is known that puppies who are punished will in future eat their poo to hide the evidence in order to avoid the harsh reprimand. Always use positive training techniques and no punishment.
  • If you get folks who are, let's just say, not as hygienic as they should be, you will get dogs eating poo to keep their area tidy and clean.
  • Changing a dog's diet,especially too quickly, can lead to eating poo. Especially if the new diet is lower in essential nutrients.
  • Dogs who are only fed once a day will tend to scavenge around much more than dogs whose meals are split up. The scavenging will also include eating faeces that they come across. It's healthier in a number of ways for dogs to have split meals - at least twice a day.
  • It has been noticed that dogs who are over fed will sometimes eat their own faeces. This is because when a dog gets too much food it can't digest it properly. The result of this is that their poo both looks and smells like the food you serve up to them. In addition you will also induce other health issues such as obesity.
  • Although this is not the human's fault, it is good to keep in mind that some types of medications, such as anti-biotics, can induce coprophagia in dogs.

Whatever the cause of your dog eating faeces most owners want the habit to stop. Let's now look at how we can go about discouraging our dogs from doing this.

A good quality diet and splitting meals up are two ways to try and prevent coprophagia.
A good quality diet and splitting meals up are two ways to try and prevent coprophagia. | Source

First steps on teaching a dog to 'leave' something undesirable

Training steps for a dog to 'leave'/'leave it'.

Tips to discourage dogs eating poo

The first thing to identify is why your dog is eating faeces. Obviously if they are eating poo because of physical or psychological reasons, then you need to speak to your vet before trying anything else. If your dog is suffering from anxiety/stress and you think it's eating poo because of this, again, speak to your vet. If there are no health issues, then a dog behaviourist is always a great source of training and advice.

Tips on stopping coprophagia

  • If you feed your dog once a day, try and change this to twice daily by splitting their meal up. This not only prevents scavenging behaviour but can help the dog to digest food better. Also feed your dog at the same time everyday or as near as possible.
  • Ensure that your dog's diet is a nutritious and balanced one.
  • As much as possible keep the immediate environment as clean of faeces as possible.
  • As soon as you see your dog taking an interest in any kind of poo, create a distraction. This can be anything - running away while calling their name, treats, toys or whatever else works for you.
  • Using a basic command consistently and persevering with it is often the most successful and long term way to stop poop eating - especially when your dog is off the lead. You can use any command word you choose, as long as you use the same one all the time for poo eating. I use "Leave it!" and then do a firm tug sideways on my dog's lead. Don't pull the lead harshly or in anger - you could end up hurting your dog. You want them to obey you, not to be scared of you. As soon as they do what you have asked, reward them immediately with a treat, game, toy or whatever your dog enjoys the most.
  • Some people feed their dog with a spoonful of pineapple juice - among many other concoctions such as garlic - as this is said to make their faeces taste awful! Obviously this only works for dogs who eat their own poo. There are also products that pet stores have that are supposed to deter dogs from eating their poo. Two that I have seen online are 'Deter' and 'Forbid'. I haven't personally used these products so I can't vouch for them being a success. However, as with the pineapple, it only works for dogs who eat their own faeces. Having said this you must remember that in many cases dogs who eat their own poo, might well have a health or psychological problem and this needs to be checked out first.
  • Some owners have tried using a muzzle with their dog when off the leash, to prevent them eating. As a last resort it is certainly worth a try, especially if you have a dog who has had a number of GI upsets due to eating faeces and other undesirables such as rotting fish etc. It would be best to use a soft muzzle as they are quite comfortable. However, I do know one dog owner that I meet regularly who tried this with her spaniel. However, she gave up after a couple of days due to the muzzle and her dog's face becoming covered in poo!

I'm sure there are many other ways that dogs can be deterred from eating poo. Keep in mind though that you need to fully understand first of all why your dog is acting in this way. Ruling out a health, dietary or psychological issue is the first thing to do. With Kassy my pup - who still tries to eat poo on occasion - it's basically due to her enjoying the taste and because she's a greedy Labrador!

As humans there are things that we do find revolting but when we care for our animals we shouldn't just embrace all the good stuff. Frequently, our pets enjoy doing things that are alien to our behaviour and upset our sensitivities. Nevertheless, that's all part of being a dog owner - taking the good with the bad - or should it be taking the good with the poo?


Submit a Comment
  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Oh what a lovely clean little dog you have!!! I wish my Labrador pup was such a lady - unfortunately she is not! LOL!! Horse poo and deer poo seem to be on her menu if she gets half a chance - I'm assured that most of them do grow out of this phase, so here's hoping!!

  • mary615 profile image

    Mary Hyatt 

    6 years ago from Florida

    I've heard of dogs who just love to eat poo, but my miniature schnauzer is so prissy and ladylike, as soon as she poos, she jumps up in the air and walks very fast as if she is afraid she will get it on her feet!

    I used to have a retriever who just loved to roll in the horse poo. That would make me sick to my stomach.

    Voted this UP, etc.

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    LOL!! Audrey you need to do a few hubs on Griff and Gabby's wonderful behaviour!!! LOL!! What awesome dogs!!

  • akirchner profile image

    Audrey Kirchner 

    6 years ago from Washington

    Helen--I think my dogs just need something all the time to do or they just get bored. Mals are like that I guess. I have tried to get them interested in reading and doing crossword puzzles, but unfortunately they just can't hold the pencils~ Seriously though Griffin DOES watch TV--I've done a hub on it somewhere--he is hysterical. If only I could get him into cartoons, my life would be simpler...and Gabby's not into it like Griff. He prefers nature shows--I am totally not kidding--and if there is a dog on the TV--OMG--he almost knocks the TV over trying to get into the TV with the dog. Very goofy companions we have but they keep us laughing~

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Audrey,

    OH!!! LOL!! That's a shame your husband saying your wee cross breed had brain damage!!LOL!

    Wow! If that had been me with the blanket I think I would have had one of my freakys!

    Well, I know its not ideal for dogs to flip coins and glass - but I tell you, they are very very clever. It's difficult for us to pick up a coin from tiles even with our mega sensitive fingers - your dog must have taken the time to work it out and learning to flip it as well - awesome!!

  • akirchner profile image

    Audrey Kirchner 

    6 years ago from Washington

    Indeed, reaction is never good over pro-action but when you see your dog carrying around a poo cigar, it's easy to react! I swear that they do these things just to see if we're paying attention. Gabby the 1-1/2 year old does the same kind of behaviors with anything--coins for instance. How can a dog pick up a nickel off the tile floor and then proceed to toss it in the air? Right in front of you! And then if you go to grab it...she's gone and flipping it all the while! I just silently scream and go the other way and then she finally leaves it alone and trails after me as in "hey--didn't you SEE what I was doing?" Griffin has done the exact same thing with a huge piece of glass he found--when he was a pup so I know the 2 bird brains are definitely related! Gotta love the oh-de-pew toothpaste of dog poo though~ Ick!!! The worst though was 1 night I strolled into the bedroom to see Griff who had just come in rolling one around on our bed blanket--I about had a canary--and then had to wash the blanket--make him go outside after I got his treat away from him! We did have a collie whippet mix who used to love to go to the beach and roll in the horse poo--my husband thought he was daft as a brick and was suffering from brain damage--I tried to tell him it's normal--they do some crazy things~

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    LOL!!! Hi Audrey! I think your dogs must be trying to send you off your rocker right enough!! With what you are saying I think they are also very intelligent and know what buttons to push! It's interesting what you said as well though about not reacting. With my pup Kassy, I've had to learn not to make a big scene about her picking up cow dung or whatever, as soon as she here's my 'YUCKKKKK', she gets the crap in her mouth and down her throat at double speed! I need to be subtle and not dive about like an idiot and I also use the words 'leave it'. It's definitely working as once or twice she's even spat something out that she had in her mouth! Luckily Roy and Kassy don't eat any of the poo in the garden, just cow poo, but being in the country there's unfortunately plenty of that around all year!! I don't what's worse though, the dogs eating it or one of my previous dogs Megan used to love rolling in it!!!

  • akirchner profile image

    Audrey Kirchner 

    6 years ago from Washington

    We have a couple of poo eaters and I always say that's where they get their *** eating grins~ They are so bad they try and get us to respond as in EEEK--they will bring a nice cigar up and flick it around on the deck! We're still working on it with them and thankfully it's only what's in the backyard--so our solution--we are ON it---picking up poop at least several times a day!!! If it isn't there--they can't wave it around at us! I think mine do it just to make us crazy--probably not--but they surely make a game out of it! It is best though not to react though--and they completely know LEAVE IT--only we never see them grabbing it!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Kashmir56 - as always, lovely to hear from you - glad that you enjoyed the hub and many thanks for the share, greatly appreciated!!!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Eddy, lovely to hear from you and glad that you enjoyed the hub - have a great weekend as well!!

  • kashmir56 profile image

    Thomas Silvia 

    6 years ago from Massachusetts

    Hi my friend great interesting and valuable information for every dog owner to know. Well done !

    Vote up and more !!! SHARING !

  • Eiddwen profile image


    6 years ago from Wales

    A very interesting hub and I had often wondered why dogs did this !!!

    Thank you for sharing;take care and enjoy your weekend.


  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Liz, lovely to meet you as well and glad that you enjoyed the hub!

    Oh your daughter's dog sounds very cute indeed! Now that'sthe first time I've heard of banana! That's very interesting and great that it worked for her! I love the name as well - and Bob Marley is a hero of mine!

    Many thanks again for stopping by and I look forward to reading some of your hubs as well!

  • Liz-reviews profile image

    Eunice Elizabeth 

    6 years ago from Vancouver, BC

    Hi Helen, nice to meet you.

    Ahhh dog poo the subject we love to hate. My daughter has a mini Dachshund, which is spoiled and we love her dearly. I recently heard that if you feed your beloved dog some banana they may in fact stop or decrease their pooh eating. So...what did we have to lose to give it a try?

    Marley (named after Bob Marley, and yes she is a female) LOVES banana and seems to have decreased her wanting to eat her pooh.

    Sooo onto more pleasantries ... I love your Hubpages and am definitely going to go back for a read. Haunted it.


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